Rhode Island, which in recent years has been lauded for its job and productivity growth, saw its unemployment numbers skyrocket last month. “In the 10 years that I have lived in Rhode Island, we have had an economic development policy that has been directed toward failure,” said Edward M. Mazze, a professor of business administration at the University of Rhode Island and a former dean of the business school.

In the Boston Globe Eric Moskowitz  writes:

“Even more than the gleaming new condos or the boom of restaurants and stores in the heart of this old mill city, the regular WaterFire festivities are held up as a signature of the rise from industrial decay, drawing jubilant crowds and their money. But as thousands thronged the bonfire spectacle this month, some noticed a troubling, if subtle, absence: shoppers.

We were slammed with people, but nobody had any bags in their hands,” said Eli Fernandez, who works at a cellphone kiosk in Providence Place, a vast mall that opened in 1999 as a centerpiece of Providence’s renewed prosperity.

There are other clues of something amiss. In residential neighborhoods around the city, a litter of “For Sale” signs. In nearby West Warwick, a young waitress pawns jewelry to make ends meet because tips are declining. To the south, in the mill village of Peace Dale, a food pantry for the needy sees a near quadrupling in the number of families enrolled in its emergency meals program – from 261 enrolled a year ago to 905 now. “Every day there’s new people,” said Susan Gustaitis, executive director of the Jonnycake Center. “It’s not slowing down.”

Rhode Island, just a few years ago celebrated for job and productivity growth, is suddenly reeling – with some indicators showing the worst economic climate in 17 years. According to figures released yesterday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment ballooned in September to 8.8 percent, the highest rate in the nation, and the state’s annual job-loss rate was un equaled. Even Providence, the capital city that has drawn national headlines over the past decade for its downtown renaissance, is looking at a housing collapse and retail contraction.

“It’s real bad, man,” said Joel Diaz, who works at the Providence Place phone kiosk with Fernandez and who knows several people who have lost jobs, faced foreclosure, or both. “Some are just going crazy now because of it.”

It is a precipitous fall for a state that three years ago boasted the highest job and productivity growth in New England, and it has set off a flurry of blame. Public officials are scrambling to retool economic development policies and defend the state’s image, contending that Rhode Island has been pulled down by national and international currents; the sudden downturn reflects temporary growing pains, they say, as the state tries to move from manufacturing to an information- and innovation-based economy.

 

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